Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ohio Arm of Obama Campaign Gets Involved in Battle Over New Election Law

Jim Provance at The (Toledo) Blade is reporting that the state director of the Obama administration's reelection effort in Ohio, Greg Schultz, is mobilizing supporters against the recently passed changes to the Buckeye state's election law. Ohio Democrats' initial efforts to put the issue of the elections changes on the ballot were rebuffed due to inaccuracies in the petition they submitted. Their do-over simplified the petition seeking to overturn not parts of the new law but instead the law in its entirety. That includes the portion of the legislation that shifted the Ohio primary from the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in May.

This is all very interesting because their are competing strategic interests involved here.
1. The Obama administration -- or at least the president's reelection campaign -- is concerned that the new restrictions on early and absentee voting will disproportionately impact Obama voters in the general election. And in a swing state like Ohio in an election that looks to be -- from our view of things at the end of August 2011 -- close, every vote counts.

2. However, the Obama folks are playing with fire here to some extent as well. Many are talking about how the Republican nomination race could stretch into May or June (or to a brokered convention), but that is not a certainty at this point in time. If Romney or Perry can wrap up the nomination earlier than that May to June window -- say toward the end of April when a host of northeastern states will hold a regional primary -- an Ohio primary back in March puts the state into the window of decisiveness. That also potentially puts Ohio into a competitive campaign environment in which Perry and Romney energize and mobilize a great many Republican voters who are apt to stick with the party in the general election.

The Democratic nomination race from 2008 is a perfect example of this. The battle for the right to be the Democratic nominee impacted registration efforts in suddenly relevant states like North Carolina and Indiana -- two typically red states that Obama later carried in the general election by narrow margins. Now this could happen to Ohio in 2012 whether the primary is in March or May, but it is more likely within the window of decisiveness in March as opposed to May.

Now, the flip side of this is that a protracted or semi-protracted Republican nomination race will veer off into Carter-Kennedy territory as opposed to a repeat of the Obama-Clinton race. If Perry vs. Romney turns, to borrow a word from the Texas governor, ugly, that divisiveness could impact the party's chances in the general election. That angle is not getting much play in the political press at the moment, but it represents a very fine line in any evenly-matched or competitive nomination race: When does the balance tip from positive energy within the Republican electorate to discontent among two Republican camps? We are an eternity away from gathering an answer to that question, but it is worth throwing out there as this nomination race continues to develop.
The Obama campaign appears to be signaling that the potential problems in the general election from supporters lacking a certain ease of voting is a greater problem than the unknown of what the Republican nomination process may produce -- whether in terms of a candidate or a unified/divided Republican Party.

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